Archive for November, 2008

The Day After

November 28, 2008


I’m suffering from one major food hangover, but why the hell am I sitting here in front of the computer with a piece of pumpkin pie for breakfast? 

Finally got everyone out of the house yesterday at 9 p.m., got the kitchen cleaned up by 11 p.m., and then couldn’t go to sleep.  Stupidly stayed up until 4 a.m. surfing the Internet and playing Sim City 3000 (I learned that you can’t run a successful city when you’re zombie tired – I spent my city into the ground and almost got impeached, kind of like the American government).  Aside from the body malaise this morning, I seem to be suffering from a foggy, spiritual malaise.  I so believe what the great monastics taught – that too much food kills prayer. 

Good thing Orthodox Christians have a sure cure for post-Thanksgiving overindulgence – fasting till all the turkey and pie are out of your system; fasting till you think becoming a vegan would be preferable; fasting until you’re good and ready to pray.  (I’m eating pie though; I didn’t say I was a good Orthodox Christian.  I’ll begin again tomorrow.)

Happy Thanksgiving To All

November 27, 2008


It’s Thanksgiving in South Texas and that means it’s going to hit a seasonal 80 degrees.  Nothing says Thanksgiving around here like cooking turkey and pumpkin pie in shorts and a t-shirt.  I will be talking to a good friend in Santa Fe later on today and they’re expecting snow.  

I am checking off my usual list of Thanksgiving traditions that must be observed or the day isn’t right:



  1. Watch A  Charlie Brown Thanksgiving  – This one is lost on my kids.  I yelled for them to come watch it on TV and they thought Disney Channel was more interesting.   When there were only three TV channels and no cable, watching a special like this was something you waited for a whole year.  Hence the word “special”. 
  2. Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade  – I could care less about the stupid musical numbers.  It’s all about the big balloons for me.
  3. Cooking and baking for two days straight
  4. Texas A & M – University of Texas football game – This is the only football game I can watch.
  5. Aggie bonfire – I’m an old Ag, ’85.  This tradition will always be treasured, even if lawsuits and liability have killed the giant campus bonfire forever.  Now all we can do is reminisce.  Ags today just don’t know what they’re missing and the longer they go without this tradition, the more dead it becomes. 

Right now I’m checking off my cooking ‘to do’ list.  Turkey, ham, boiled jumbo shrimp, cornbread dressing, gingered beets, lemon-cardamon green beans, gravy, lima beans with bacon, a Texas Sheet Cake, two sweet potato pies (which I unfortunately put in the freezer last night to chill a bit, then promptly fell asleep putting my six year old to bed – we’ll see how well pies freeze), two pumpkin pies (which had a disaster of their own – when I didn’t have enough pumpkin to fill the pie pans.  So, how do you save it?  Fill it with walnuts, make a quick streusel for the top and pray.)  If I still have time I’m going to make a batch of cheddar biscuits.  My sister is bringing apple pies, sweet potatoes and mashed potatoes.  For some reason she likes that job.  My mom is the cole slaw and cranberry-orange relish queen.  She’s eighty-five so that’s easy enough for her to handle.  She reluctantly gave up the Thanksgiving meal to me about six years ago but she still wants to contribute. 

By the way, did I mention all this food is to feed twelve people?  It’ll give me a good reason to post on gluttony.  St. John Climacus has a whole chapter on that.

Barring any more disasters, we’ll eat around 4:00 p.m., but don’t tell one of my nephews that.  He’s a notoriously late arriver for any family occasion.  I told him we’re eating at 3:00 p.m.  My in-laws and sister-in-law are coming from Corpus Christi and should be here by noon.  I’m going to appreciate my mother-in-law’s help.

Well, a very happy Thanksgiving to everyone, especially a few of my special friends out there – RK in Santa Fe, Deacon T in Indiana and Reader B in Oklahoma.  I miss you all very much.  Writing more tomorrow when I try and work off the food hangover.

Mumbai Terror Attacks

November 27, 2008


I’d love to see a day go by that wasn’t defined by evil and hatred.  The news is reporting wide-scale attacks and bombings against hotels and a train station in Mumbai, India, and the taking of many hostages.  This world is truly going crazy. 

Politically Correct Eating

November 25, 2008


I was in Sun Harvest the other day, standing in the checkout line and this lady in front of me is being offered the opportunity to purchase a bag of goods for the local food bank’s Thanksgiving campaign.    She examines the bag, but doesn’t say yes or no, she asks the checker, “Is it healthy?”  I’m impatiently waiting my turn to check out and get home, while rolling my eyes and thinking “It’s Sun Harvest for God’s sake lady, of course it’s healthy, now move it along.”  The checker gives one of those non-committal shrugs that indicates she is obviously telepathic and picking up on my brain waves. 

Now I’d taken a look at those same bags a few days earlier and decided I didn’t want to buy one for exactly the opposite reason.  The $20 price tag got you one half-full bag of canned goods, all organic, all natural, but I can guarantee you, if I was dependent on feeding my family with those food bags, I’d be saying to myself, big freakin’ deal.  Organic, free range, fair trade are words that mean squat to people who have six mouths to feed.

Eating or rather what to eat has become so politically correct.  If you are upper middle-class you eat conscientiously, environmentally, societally.  I really started to think about the political correctness of eating when I saw a 60 Minutes interview  with the founder of Whole Foods Market, John Mackey about two years ago.   When he was asked about how pricey Whole Foods products were and how the poor could afford to shop there, he said

To me, you make a tradeoff.  It might be a little bit more expensive. But you’re getting a better tasting, higher quality food that’s going to be better for your health and better for the environment.

I guess the poor will just have to trade-off medicine for their asthmatic kids or bus fare to get to their minimum wage jobs.  How out of touch can you be!  The concern of the working poor and down-and-out is not quality, it’s getting the maximum amount of food for a minimum price.  The irony these days is that the current economic mess has started to blur the lines of the food haves and have nots.   Even middle class professionals are feeling the strain of making a paycheck cover the purchase of foods that cost 30% more than they did one year ago.  In my case, I plan meals; I cut out expensive ingredients, including free-range and organic if it costs more than about 10% of the non-organic stuff.  Wine and artisan cheeses are off the list, and so are many out of season fruits and veggies.  I’m buying more frozen veggies rather than waste money on letting the fresh stuff spoil before I can cook it.  I’m buying lesser cuts of meat and poultry and preparing them in ways I never would have believed before (my 2 cent tip – turkey thighs). 

I’ll be honest.  It’s been a bit of a snobbish let down for me.  I was a little proud of the fact I was a food connoisseur.  I labeled myself a “foodie” and read every page of Saveur and Eating Well.  I could go to the local foodie paradise, H.E.B. Central Market, and splurge on artisan cheeses, $4 per pound organic, heirloom tomatoes or single source honeys, and carry $80 worth of groceries out in three paper bags.  But quality over quantity is easy when the cost of living isn’t eating up your entire paycheck.  So I saved another $70 a year by dropping my subscriptions.  I am now fixing meals that aren’t PC and they aren’t extravagant.  In some respects I think my cooking has gotten better because I have to try harder.

But getting back to that $20 Thanksgiving food bag.  Give the poor a break.  Maybe their poverty has instilled unhealthy eating habits in them.  Eating habits are shaped by experience and custom – systemic poverty is a learned culture of neglect and calorie stretching.  Giving the poor a can of organic sweet potatoes and a free-range turkey for Thanksgiving might make your conscience feel better, but it isn’t going to make a light bulb go off in the head of a teenage WIC mother or fill up her table.  Her kids will still be drinking Kool-Aid out of a bottle because she either can’t afford orange juice or she just doesn’t know any better.  I’d say your money would be better spent buying the four-for-a-dollar canned beans.  And while you’re at it, buy the poor some pie and ice cream.  Thanksgiving shouldn’t be the time for making an object lesson out of peoples’ holiday traditions.

Metropolitan Jonah in Dallas

November 19, 2008


Metropolitan Jonah served a Hierarchical Divine Liturgy at St. Seraphim’s Orthodox Cathedral last weekend (I guess it was his goodbye to his short-lived tenure in Fort Worth/ Dallas and a chance to pack up stuff he’d just finished unpacking).   Parishioner and journalist Rod Dreher at Crunchy Con has posted two short videos of the service. 

What a service that must have been.  I can only hope and pray that Met. Jonah finds some reason to visit San Antonio.  As I understand, he’s very, very fond of good Mexican food, so I’m sure we could manage to find one or two good restaurants around town. 

Here’s a thought I’ll leave you with after hearing from one priest about his experiences at the All American Council.   This priest has been around long enough to know the way church politics works, and he stressed that Metropolitan Jonah is an excellent choice but he is still a man and we should never place our trust in anyone else but Christ himself.   He is absolutely right of course.   So…I guess once all the high emotions, praise and adulation of the past couple of weeks wear off, we’re all going to have to get back to reality.

(BTW, Rod mentions Metropolitan Jonah’s promise to come back and bless his backyard chickens.   That’s the kind of video that could quickly go viral with Orthodox Christians!)

How Long Can Mount Athos Resist?

November 18, 2008


If you’ve ever wondered at the ability of dripping water to wear down solid rock, just imagine how the Orthodox monks of Mount Athos must be feeling.  Daniel Flynn at Reuters Faithworld blog writes about his recent trip to Mount Athos and wonders why someone doesn’t turn the tap on full blast. 

On a par with the force of running water, there has to be nothing more relentless and annoying than the whining of aggrieved feminist taxpayers who feel their money and their gender have earned them access to, well, everything.  Since the founding of the first monastery, the Great Lavra, in 963 AD by St. Athanasius, this has been a males-only monastic peninsula, where at least in theory, even the domestic animals are male (with the exception of cats and chickens, which lay eggs for the tempera paints used in iconography). 

In the new genderless, sexless, religionless EU, there is no room for religious belief and practice that would actually call for women to deny their self-gratification and tourist holidays for the spiritual tradition of active Christian communities.   It’s only too apparent where this attitude comes from when most of the churches in Europe have been turned into cultural symbols with a religious flavor.   Many European women apparently feel that their tax dollars and millenia of subjugation at the hands of men has earned them the entrance price to Mount Athos.  

What is odd about these feelings of feminine injustice is how they feel that their banishment is a reflection on their value as women, when in fact, their exclusion is due to the weakness and sinful nature of the men inside those monasteries.   The monks have simply leaned that the key to saving their souls is to reduce temptation.  And if you’ve ever seen the Greek beaches of half-naked, drunk European vacationers, can’t you understand why they don’t want things to change.  As St. John Climacus instructs his monks in The Ladder of Divine Ascent,

We should strive in all possible ways neither to see nor to hear of that fruit we have vowed never to taste.

This kind of chastity and denial of the flesh has worked on Mount Athos for more than 1000 years and Mr. Flynn is short-sighted in believing you can apply the “equality for all” logo to every institution and practice that has accepted EU and UNESCO funding.  The short-sightedness may have been on the part of the monks, who were caught between a rock and a hard place.  Their Faustian bargain was to accept renovation money with unknown strings or watch as the buildings deteriorated around them.  Long gone are the days of royal patronage and income from monastic landholdings.   

Nevertheless, the monks  of Mount Athos aren’t worried about equality, only salvation.   Their problem will be to resist the drip, drip, drip of the modern world that for some reason sees a closed door as an invitation to barge in.  But I believe there are some things in this world that should be respected and left alone.  If you want to see beautiful artwork, go to a museum.  The monasteries of Mount Athos are not museums; they are battlegrounds of the spiritual life.  If you want to see treasures, open the Bible and read the Word of God.


The Writings of Metropolitan Jonah

November 17, 2008

Metropolitan Jonah’s writings prior to his consecration are well known in the quarterly journal Divine Ascent published by St. John of San Francisco Monastery, and reflect the same spiritual depth that were evident in his speeches at the All American Council.  The Diocese of the South  had gathered several essays prior to his consecration as Auxiliary Bishop and they are accessible here.   I particularly loved his reminisces on a trip back to Valaam Monastery.  It made me feel like I was a part of his spiritual journey.

Well, Isn’t that Special

November 16, 2008


San Antonio was one of more than 100 cities across the nation to host suffer a Proposition 8 protest yesterday.  Right smack downtown in front of San Fernando Cathedral and the county courthouse, lots of  rainbow clad, GLBTG…XYZ’s got together and generated a little testosterone with their outrage.   

Texans have had their own marriage amendment on the books since November 8, 2005.  It passed with a 75% margin, but before you get too complacent, remember the Texas Constitution has about as many amendments as a dog has fleas.   We’ve got the public support and numbers now, but don’t rely on a document that is notoriously weak to protect traditional marriage for long.    Scratch hard enough and long enough and the mindset of even the most conservative voters will eventually get worn down.  Minds change, laws change.  And before you know it, the Valentine’s Day weddings on the steps of the Bexar County Courthouse are going to be much more “colorful”.

An Early Glimpse Inside the Metropolitan Council

November 15, 2008

Here is a very informative blog post  by Fr. Ted Bobosh, parish priest of St. Paul the Apostle Orthodox Church in Dayton, Ohio.  It describes a meeting he attended at the conclusion of the All American Council between the new Metropolitan, the Metropolitan Council and the Synod of Bishops.  As an outsider I have a hard time understanding why such a meeting seems so unusual, but then, I never was a witness to the weird workings of the Theodosius or Herman administrations.   In the B.J. days (‘before Jonah’), divisiveness and secrecy meant that no one talked with each other, there were no conciliar decisions.   Anyone who has ever been on parish council, run a business or even made family decisions knows you just can’t do it in secrecy or without working together.  That is just a no-brainer.  Thank God we’re in the A.J. days now and a lack of self-interest and openness are the standards we will expect our hierarchy to uphold.

November 15 Nativity Fast

November 15, 2008


Today starts the Nativity Fast or the St. Philip’s Fast as it is less commonly known (coming the day after the celebration of the feast of St. Philip the Apostle).  We now begin 40 days of fasting and increased prayer, but also joyful watching and waiting so that at the end we can sing

Make glad, O ye righteous! Greatly rejoice, O ye heavens! Ye mountains, dance for joy!  Christ is born; and like the cherubim the Virgin makes a throne, carrying at her bosom God the Word made flesh.  Shepherds, glorify the newborn Child! Magi, offer the Master gifts!  Angels, sing praises, saying: ‘O Lord past understanding, glory to Thee!’
            (First sticheron of the Praises, Nativity Matins)

Before we can rejoice in the culmination of this fast, we must remember how it started –  with the Annunciation.   The Archangel Gabriel’s pronouncement to the Blessed Virgin Mary (Luke 1:26-35) was a message not intended just for a young Gallilean girl 2,000 years ago, but was to become the most meaningful news for the whole of humanity.

Luke 1:26-35

26 Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27 to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And having come in, the angel said to her, “Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!”
29 But when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and considered what manner of greeting this was. 30 Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name JESUS. 32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. 33 And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.”
34 Then Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I do not know a man?”
35 And the angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God.

The Theotokos spent the next nine months preparing for the birth of her son, Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  I don’t know if she fasted, but prayer must have always been with her.  (As an aside, our modern fasting practices exclude pregnant women and nursing mothers, but this is the Theotokos we’re talking about, who had been miraculously fed during her young life in the Temple.)   The purpose of prayer is to enter into greater communion with God and to live according to his will.  It is amazing to think that a young woman who showed the greatest faith and reliance on the will of God, was now the bearer of God.  She achieved the most perfect communion with God by literally being the Mother and bearer of God.

I wish everyone a blessed journey through the Nativity Fast and I ask forgiveness of anyone I have offended by my words.